Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pastoral Planning-a response to CNN's religion blog which states: "Catholics-dissent or leave"

The religion blog of CNN has an interesting title: Catholics-dissent or leave. The blog chooses to focus on a number of statistics that seem to indicate going dissatisfaction among those who have left the church. According to statistics the present Catholics now occupy 24% of the population in the United States. This is still the largest denomination but the numbers are down significantly from 35% a number of years ago. A large influx of immigrant catholics have helped bolster Catholic number according to blog editor Jim Spellman. The sources of discontent? Some cite the Clergy Sex abuse scandal but others seem to say " I'm not being fed." Although it is probably fair to say that the sex abuse scandals have dealt a blow to the church and the trust of the lay faithful, most Catholics realize the problem of sexual abuse is systemic in our society and is certainly no more common in the Roman Catholic priesthood than any other demographic. What then about the phrase "I'm not being fed?" This is a phrase I have heard a lot. Whether it is the preaching (or lack thereof) of priests or catechesis (or lack thereof), something is missing in our presentation of the faith. If we believe (as we say) that we are people of the Word and of the altar, should not our focus be on breaking God's Word for the people so they can better understand and appreciate the Eucharist? To give a 3-5 minute homily and then expect people to be "fed" or "sustained" is not enough. Then there is the other issue: Why do people leave under the premise of "not being fed" when they have the "Bread of Life?", the "Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ?" The mass is heaven on earth, it is, as Scott Hahn brought out so beautifully in his bood Lamb's Supper, the Book of Revelation-it is all there! The question for us is not one of gimmocks. There have been too many worldly-focused means used to attract people. What people are yearning for and hungering for is what Pope John Paul II wrote about in his apostolic letter NOVO MILLENIO INEUNTE. People are not being fed because they are not experiencing holiness. St. Josemaria Escriva used to say: " The world's crises are crises of saints." St. Paul in 1 Thess 4:3 says "This is the will of God, your sanctification." Here at St. Patrick Church in East Hampton, CT we are going through a process called pastoral planning. Pastoral Planning is an effort to combine resources with other parishes to build more vibrant faith communities. With an aging priesthood and a shortage of newer priests it is becoming increasingly evident that parishes will need to cooperate and collaborate resources. What Pope John Paul II does, however, is put the emphasis where it should be. While you and I immediately think in practical terms of programs or schedules. Pope John Paul II speaks a different language: holiness. Here are his words: "In fact, to place pastoral planning under the heading of holiness is a choice filled with consequences. It implies the conviction that, since Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity. To ask catechumens: 'Do you wish to receive Baptism?' means at the same time to ask them: 'Do you wish to become holy?' It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: 'Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.' (By the way the word perfect does not exist in Hebrew....the closest English equivalent would be completeness/wholeness) As the Council itself explained, this ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few 'uncommon heroes' of holiness. The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. I thank the Lord that in these years he has enabled me to beatify and canonize a large number of Christians, and among them many lay people who attained holiness in the most ordinary circumstances of life. The time has come to re-propose the high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction. It is also clear, however, that the paths of holiness are personal and call for a genuine 'training in holiness', adapted to people's needs. This training must integrate the resources offered to everyone with both the traditional forms of individual and group assistance, as well as the more recent forms of support offered in associations, and movements recognized by the Church." Still "not being fed?" Visit a soup kitchen and see Jesus disguised as the beggar. Visit a nursing home and touch the lonely and hurting Jesus. Make a visit to a church and spend time in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament and marvel that the God of the universe has made Himself so small, so vulnerable so as to be with, and speak to , you. Read Scripture. Get to know the story of God's great interventions in human history. Read about Elijah calling down fire from heaven. Read about Moses and the burning bush, or Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Read about Jesus and see how he multiplies the loaves and the fish, prefiguring the Eucharist. See him at the last supper where he says "Take and eat, This is my Body which is given up for you." Imagine you are in the crowd and you here him say "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you do not have life within you." Question yourself...what does this mean. Then remember that over 2,000 there has been the "great cloud of witnesses" who have given their lives for Christ and are interceding with Jesus right now on your behalf. Recall St. Francis de Sales who valiantly went into the Chablais region of France and singlehandedly brought back over 60,000 souls to the Catholic Church through his writings, his kindness, his holiness. Still "not being fed?" Surround yourself with Godly people who are seeking wholeheartedly to do the will of God in their life and you want have to try to be holy. It will just happen. What is the best pastoral plan of all? A plan of holiness. How are we to respond to those who are critical of the church and say they are "not being fed?" Come and see. Come and See the splendor and beauty of Jesus and the Catholic church.


  1. Hi Father - as always great post. As you rightfully point out people have a completely mistaken idea of the Holy Mass. Keep up the great work!